Sunday, April 30, 2006

La Marcha

Monday's forecast for Chicago:

Rain showers early, becoming a steady, soaking rain later in the day with a few rumbles of thunder possible. High 62F. Winds SSE at 10 to 20 mph. Chance of rain 70%.
Evening: Showers and thundershowers likely. Low near 55F. Winds SSE at 10 to 15 mph. Chance of rain 80%. Rainfall around a quarter of an inch.

We'll need waterproof armbands and signs.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

I'm a Bad Mexican, Part Two

I'm a Bad Mexican, Part One is here.

Even though I’ve attained a certain sense of peace about the position I occupy as the English-dominant, more-American-than-Mexican granddaughter of immigrants, I’m aware of the complications of my position regarding the planned walkout this Monday. An Ivy League graduate with a masters in English literature, I now enjoy working in hospitality, specifically as a server. My (current) career choice puts me, for the first time in my life, face to face with people whose families are directly affected by immigration law. As a Chicana who is more American than Mexican, where do I stand in this debate? What is my responsibility to the migrant workers facing criminalization for their attempts to provide for their families? Just how Mexican am I supposed to be here?

I was talking to my man who has recently been promoted from general manager and now holds a higher position in his restaurant company. I was saying that obviously any restaurant owner or company doesn’t want to lose a day’s revenue, but I think the issues are much more important than the amount any given establishment might lose in one day. I think affected restaurants should support their workers and give them the day off and maybe even close for the day. But as I spoke, I knew how unlikely that scenario was. And there’s no question about what my man will do on Monday: he’s been informed that if he doesn’t go to work on that day, he’ll lose his comfortable, salaried job. It’s ugly, but it’s the reality of the situation, even for someone who's not on an hourly wage (and who's white).

Then he asked me what I would do as an employee. My last job was as a hostess in a downtown restaurant and I said I would have asked for the day off. But his question was completely hypothetical because (as you know) I don’t really have a job right now. The new restaurant where I’ll be a server isn’t open yet and they tend to take Mondays off anyway. I just don’t have a big decision to make about whether or not to go to work on May 1.

I’m surprised and disappointed to find that I’m relieved about that. As a student, I used to be eager to join in public demonstrations and political rallies. Cutting class for the cause was exciting and fun. But now that I’m another member of the workforce such political gestures aren’t as easy, although they feel more important now that I work in the restaurant industry. I wouldn’t have looked forward to asking for the day off, but since most of my (former) Latino co-workers aren’t going to be at work on Monday, I would have felt obligated to join them. I’ll never know if I really would have.

On Oso Raro’s blog, Slaves of Academe, he writes of the current conflict:

And let’s be clear about one thing: this debate is really not about immigrants per se, for they will keep coming regardless of the risks and abuses. This is more about how we see ourselves as a society, how Americans feel about themselves, and their prospects, and who counts as a human being. Cycles of optimism and pessimism mark our history, and we definitely seem to be on a swing towards the latter, both in our public culture and intimate feelings. The old bugaboos of the "culture wars" echo here as well, with debates on American gender, race, and sexuality from the sixties returning to duke it out. What I find especially distressing is how we ended up here, for arguably the proposed legislation that is at the heart of this whole tempest in a teapot is mean and taciturn and brutalist.
- from Qué Onda Aztlán? April 4, 2006

For all of my ambivalence about how well I represent any kind of Mexican community, I have to respond to legislation that is this cruel. I would hope that any American paying attention would. I also respond to Oso Raro’s assertion that this debate is about how Americans feel about ourselves and who counts as a human being. Born and raised middle class (I was a teenage white girl), I was exposed only to other middle class Mexican Americans when I was growing up. I never had the opportunity to know any undocumented immigrants until a year and a half ago when I took my first restaurant job. Immigration debates used to be purely academic to me. Now I can connect real faces with those affected by what is likely more post-9/11 hysteria about who is US and who is THEM, who counts as a human being and who is worth sacrificing for the good of our overfed, out-of-touch American egos.

So I’ll remain unemployed on Monday and I’ll march. I’ll take my place among the Mexican immigrants who have been so accepting of my culturally conflicted language abilities, as well as among the Mexican Americans who have looked down on me for not being Mexican enough. Just as the Catholic church gladly claims me when it needs to get its numbers up, so will the Mexican American community welcome my brown face at their protest.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

I'm a Bad Mexican, Part One

My whole life I’ve felt like a bad Mexican. My parents raised my sister and me in the white suburbs of California. I didn’t know how to speak Spanish until I took it in high school. I dressed white, spoke white, had white friends and when I started dating, I went out with white boys. My grandparents immigrated to the U.S. in the 1920’s and by the time I was born my immediate and most of my extended family had managed to attain the middle class. But the materials in my Chicano Studies class at U.C. Berkeley didn’t include a middle class experience and neither did the many political speeches and personal statements I’ve heard over the years. With the impression that there is no such thing as a Mexican American middle class, I felt like I didn’t count as Mexican at all. My early life was planted in the suburbs of San Francisco, and stories about my grandparents picking cotton or doing laundry for 25 cents an hour felt like they had nothing to do with me.

I received the approval of my parents’ generation for my outstanding academics, but I had their disapproval for not speaking fluent Spanish. I realize now it was unfair of them to hold me responsible for knowing a language no one had taught me, but as I grew up I accepted the blame completely. I believed I was a bad Mexican and I was ashamed.

For most of my life this shame has tongue-tied me whenever I’ve tried to speak Spanish. Of course, those occasions were rare since few people in my world even spoke Spanish. I went from a suburban college prep high school to U.C. Berkeley to Cornell University to jobs as a teacher, office worker, childcare provider, musician, etc. Never in any of those environments did I need to speak anything but English.

Let me state it again: never in my entire life did I need to know any language other than English. I worked, socialized, dated, conducted commerce and consumed entertainment completely in English, as most Americans do. Most people who took French or Spanish in high school or college can’t speak it as adults because without regular practice, foreign language skills disappear. The only reasons I managed to retain as much Spanish-speaking ability as I did, were my natural facility with language and the extreme cultural pressure I constantly felt to know Spanish.

It wasn’t until I decided to try waitressing at the age of 38 that I finally found myself in the position of needing to know Spanish, and it took me by surprise. Now it seems totally obtuse to not realize that a job in a Chicago restaurant would mean having Spanish-dominant coworkers (I prefer the terms “Spanish-dominant” and “English-dominant” because lots of Spanish speakers also speak some English and lots of English speakers also speak some Spanish. I think the “dominant” terms are more specific). But it dawned on me slowly that as a waitress who constantly interacted with Spanish-dominant cooks, I’d better pull that high school Spanish out of cerebral storage and start using it for the first time in my life.

Since then I’ve learned two invaluable things. One is that if I establish at the beginning that I’m really more American than Mexican (I’ll even say, “Soy una gringa.”) and my Spanish sucks, people will be impressed when I manage to hold my own in that language. This is HUGELY better than having people assume I can speak Spanish fluently and then being disappointed (and disapproving) when I stumble. The second thing is that I’ve retained an incredible amount of vocabulary and grammar from those classes I took about 20 years ago. I’ll start explaining that I’m going to be a bee for Halloween, with no idea how to say “bee” in Spanish, and then by the end of the sentence “abeja” just drops out of my mouth. Amazing.

I’ve also found that the Mexican immigrants I work with have none of the judgment of those second generation Mexican Americans who clucked their tongues at me when I was growing up. “You should know Spanish” is not an opinion I get from anyone who came here from Mexico and is trying to learn English as fast as possible. They accept that my bloodline and physical features are Mexican, but that my personality and language are American (I speak Spanish with a clear Anglo accent). Yet they’ve found nothing to criticize in me and for that I’m grateful. Their acceptance has helped me accept my fragmented self-image and improve it.

Thus have I finally made my peace with Spanish and to some extent my Mexican-ness. I’ve stopped expecting myself to one day finally speak the language of my grandparents flawlessly. It’s a goal I no longer feel I must achieve in order to atone for being raised middle class, sounding like a white girl and having little contact with any Hispanic community. I’m more American than Mexican and that’s all right. Enabling their families mobility in class and wealth was why my grandparents came here in the first place.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Motherhood, no thanks

Maybe this is appropriate with Mother's Day coming up. Here's yet another reason (among several) that it's good I never reproduced. From the April 24, 2006 Newsweek article Not Always 'the Happiest Time':

Pregnancy probably doesn't cause depression, per se, but just like a divorce or a death in the family, it can trigger it in women who may already be genetically predisposed. And the hormones don't help. The relationship between estrogen, progesterone and mood is not well understood, but scientists believe it is the changes in hormonal levels, rather than the levels themselves, that affect people's moods.

I'm genetically predisposed to depression! I take daily meds to keep the "I wish I were dead" fantasies buried. I must never get pregnant.

Of course, my interest in having children is pretty much non-existent anyway. Maybe if I'd really wanted kids, I would have figured out a way to have them, even if I am reaching the age of 40 without a husband. But I've never really wanted to raise a kid. And I definitely don't want to be a mother.

I realize this puts me in the minority, especially among women who are also Catholic and Hispanic. I look at women with one or two (or four) children in tow and feel only vague sympathy, often pity. I'm extremely grateful to have never faced the question of whether or not I should carry a pregnancy to term. No pregnancies, no kids, no thanks.

Tuesday

The new restaurant is straightening out problems, training cooks, stocking up on tableware and supplies, and having "mock dinners" (we invite a sympathetic and patient audience and practice serving and feeding them. They give us feedback and we give them a free meal). In other words, we're not open and aren't sure when we will be, but the process is underway. So it's back to temping for me. But whether I'm earning a living as a server or as an office temp, it's HUGELY better than being a hostess at The Grillroom.

On Wednesday and Thursday this week, the chef will oversee "tastings" for the servers which means the cooks prepare all the dishes for the servers to see and sample. Yes, it's fun because the food is great and it's a free meal, but it's also real work because we're responsible for memorizing every spice in every sauce, every ingredient added to every dish and every flavor on every plate. Remember, this is an upscale Indian restaurant that, in part, targets people who know nothing about Indian food, so we really have to be cultural guides. We have to be able to tell customers exactly what each dish tastes like (flavor, heat, spiciness, moisture, etc.), how big the serving is, how they're supposed to eat it (if that's not apparent), what possible allergens are in it, etc. Eventually we'll have to be able to tell them which wine(s) go with each dish too, but fortunately we don't have to know that yet. In contrast, our Indian customers don't need any of this information and thank god for them.

Friday, April 21, 2006

How could I be MORE dense!

How is it possible that I've gained eight pounds since the fall, but when I measure myself I'm still the same size? Is it possible that I could be gaining weight in a way that doesn't show on the outside? Maybe I'm increasing my muscle mass. Or increasing the density of my bones. Or growing a tumor. Could a tumor cause weight gain without increasing my surface area? Remember, I'm only 5 feet 2 inches, so I'd expect an eight-pound weight gain to show at least a little.

I don't want to be heavier!

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Reality?

It's SO GOOD to no longer be at a job I really didn't want! Isn't it, Joel? How are things going with you, Joel?

I had a glorious day yesterday of sleeping in, doing a nice, long workout and having dinner with my BOYFRIEND (yes, my BOYFRIEND, it's still a startling and unusual concept for me). I'm continuing training at the new restaurant and am becoming educated in Indian dishes, customs, spices, geography, the wines that go with Indian food, etc. The more time I spend at this place, the more I am convinced that this is the restaurant I was looking for: a place that truly cares for its customers and goes way beyond offering an efficiently served meal at a decent price (like every other place I've worked). We're creating the modern version of a dhaba. From the training materials: "A dhaba is a roadside diner in India. It is an oasis [for] weary travellers...Those that welcome in the guests are always gracious to include a new face...the decor is that of vibrant colors taken from nature, and the buzz is in anticipation of breaking bread and savoring the ancient flavors of home."

The servers (including me!) will not only be able to describe each dish, but will know the traditions the recipe incorporates, the geographical and cultural origins of the ingredients and even the ayurvedic health benefits of the herbs and spices. We don't just want to fill your stomach. We want you to feel at home and enjoy delicious food with healing properties as well as nutritional benefits. It's time for Indian food to take its place among the highly desired cuisines of Chicago's savvy diners. The market is certainly wide open: neither The Reader's "Top 50 Restaurants" nor Chicago Magazine's "Best New Restaurants" lists contained a single Indian restaurant. By the time those annual lists are compiled again, there should be at least one. Ours.

So with that part of my life going well, I turn to the other part of my life that's going well and wonder which one will fall apart first. Things with my boyfriend of three months are great, and for the first time since we started dating, he's actually living in Chicago. See, we got together at the beginning of January, just when he was temporarily moving to Indiana for a long-term assignment. Our time together has been limited and hugely mediated by phone calls and email. But that long-term assignment ended this past weekend and now the boy is back in town! For the first time since we became a couple, we can actually see each other, in person, several times a week if we want to (IF we want to).

His long-term assignment was extremely challenging and very little fun and he hated that it kept him separated from me. He kind of felt about it the way I felt about my hostessing job: constantly wanting OUT! It's very weird that the exact same week that I'm free from my sucky job, he's free from his. And now we'll find out if our love has really just been a band-aid fixation to get us through our crappy jobs. Maybe the whole relationship falls apart as soon as we're at jobs we enjoy.

If not and we actually managed to sustain this thing, I imagine he's only got a few years to live. At the age of ALMOST 40 I am finally having an experience of true, mature, love and intimacy, so I'm sure it can't last. And heck, he's got some excellent indicators for a short life: he's been smoking for almost 30 years, his dad died young and I believe he has the symptoms of sleep apnea, which is an indicator for heart problems. So I'm sure he's doomed. But in the meantime, I'm having a great time with him.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

ITMFA

My favorite sex columnist and yours, Dan Savage of Savage Love, has started a website devoted to spreading the slogan "ITMFA." It stands for "Impeach the Motherf@#$er Already" and it's clearly time. Savage's site sells ITMFA buttons and lapel pins, but semi-ITMFA-affiliated Slapnose has t-shirts, hats, dog shirts, etc.

Now don't go cynical on me: actually impeaching George Bush and booting him out of office will probably remain one of the sweetest pipe dreams of the decade. The goal with ITMFA is to simply spread this slogan as far as it will go, so let's start smearing.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Why can't Easter be more like Christmas?

I have always found Easter depressing. It’s like the pale, listless cousin of Christmas. I don’t understand it because Jesus being born was certainly a big deal, but wasn’t him rising from the dead an even more impressive event? Christmas was the day this baby god was born, full of promise and hope, but Easter was the day he actually defeated death itself, conquering human fears of what happens to us after we die and demonstrating that human beings have incredible potential. If Easter recognizes the day that all of humanity received a reprieve on the end of life itself, why does our American celebration of it so weakly echo our yuletide feasting and pageantry? (I limit my discussion to the way Easter is celebrated in the United States because that’s all I know, but please let me know of the traditions or viewpoints I’m missing out on.)

Either the early Christian church failed to connect Easter with a strong, ancient pagan tradition the way it did with Christmas, or early Americans didn’t recognize Easter as a unifying holiday to make their own, the way they did with Christmas [see my summary of the History Channel’s history of Christmas at http://chicanaontheedge.blogspot.com/2006/01/
isnt-there-anyone-who-knows-what.html since I can't get the link to work). The reason for our anemic American Easter tradition is probably the latter reason more than the former, but I’m not satisfied to stop there. Even though I’m an atheist and don’t believe in any of this stuff, Christmas is one of my favorite things and I really do wonder why Easter can’t rival it. Christmas is absolutely everywhere for months and even though the yuletide mechanism is mostly powered by pure profit-hunger, we still put on a damn good show, full of sparkle and mystery. Even I recognize the amazing spectacle and energy of a tradition we inadvertantly made wonderful on our way to the bank. Why can’t Easter be like that, too?

Instead I remember Easter mainly for the cool candy that appeared only at that time of the year (gooey Cadbury eggs, etc.), the boring life-of-Christ movies all the networks aired that weekend and the Easter ham I just never liked as much as the yuletide turkey. And maybe there’d be a cake decorated with jelly beans. What a sad, half-hearted holiday it always felt like to me.

It was hard to even get worked up over our brand new Easter dresses since we just wore them to church for an hour and then came home and took them off. There were no piles of presents to tear through, no decorated tree to take pictures in front of, no extended family gathering to suffer through. And in the days after Easter Sunday, what did we get? No cool new toys or gadgets, just a lot of egg salad sandwiches.

I am actually offended by our lack of imagination on this one. Come on, America, why haven’t we focused our money-making initiative on Easter? It could be so much bigger, so much more mysterious, so much more profitable. We made up the modern Santa Claus story out of thin air, attached materialistic gift-buying to the love of one’s children and splashed a specifically Christian holiday all over the streets, stores and airwaves. Separation of church and state goes right out the window every December 25th, all in the interest of retail America making a buck. So how about doing that for Easter?

A big part of the blame also falls on the Catholic church. Before I became an atheist (then a Christian, then a born- again atheist), I was raised Catholic. Oh my god, does the Catholic church suck at how it does Easter! For Christmas it does pretty well, dressing up in garlands and twinkling lights and spending weeks eagerly anticipating the birth of the baby Jesus. It’s a good story. Mary receives good news. The shepherds receive good news. It’s just good news all around, and for most of November and December the Catholic church really manages to step up its usual mea culpa shuffle and show a little pep.

But its true colors show at Easter. Oh, how unfortunate that the story of Easter is so dark. It doesn’t have to be, but the Catholic church focuses heavily on Jesus’ foreknowledge of the hell he’s about to go through, Judas’ betrayal, Jesus’ arrest and torture...and torture...and torture...and death. Holy Week itself reflects the emphasis: Easter Sunday is outnumbered by Holy Thursday and Good Friday, and those come after the forty days of Lent during which we’re supposed to sacrifice something we dearly love and reflect on how depressing life is in general.

How much focus does the Catholic church give the resurrection? I never saw Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ, but my sister told me the entire movie focuses on pain and gore and then when it’s time for Jesus to be resurrected and triumph over death -- here comes the happy ending, let’s move the stone from the front of the tomb and get on with the Resurrection -- Gibson’s movie ends! Where’s the payoff? Where’s the light at the end of the tunnel? Where’s the demonstration of God’s power over death? Gibson gives us nothin’.

I assert that the Catholic church observes Lent, Holy Week and Easter very similarly to the way Mel Gibson focuses his film. We get the weeks between Ash Wednesday and Good Friday to reflect on our pitiful selfishness as the sinners Christ died for, and one day to celebrate him rising from the dead. He f#%&-ing rose from the dead! That’s a good story! That’s an ending that can’t be beat! And what do we do? We make it an anticlimax. Almost a denoument, almost an epilogue. Catholics can’t decorate and build excitement for weeks like at Christmastime because we drag out this Lent business. There’s no eagerly anticipated Easter Eve because that’s the time when Jesus was lying dead and broken in the crypt. We just get weeks of ashes-to-ashes and “Crucify him!” and the most exquisite guilt of the Christian calendar, and then one day to wear pastel colors and finally indulge in chocolate or alcohol or anal sex or whatever it was you gave up for Lent (that one’s for you, Obesio).

Seriously, click here on The Passion of the Christ [I don't know why my links aren't working! Use this: http://www.thepassionofthechrist.com/splash.htm] for a pretty accurate visual depiction of how the Catholic church recognizes Easter. Heck, the Catholic church couldn’t even come up with a positive symbol with which to represent itself. The main Catholic icon is the cross, which is to say the crucifix, which is to say the incredibly cruel instrument of torture on which criminals used to be killed by the Romans. Why do we want to worship an instrument of torture? Why do I want to hang a dead guy on a stick on the wall above my bed? A dead guy on a stick was really the best representation the Catholic church could come up with for itself? Really? Yup, apparently.

The Catholic church has really failed us on this whole Easter thing. Talk about a missed opportunity. Christmas is great, but the Easter resurrection was the reason that baby was born. That’s your opportunity to lift spirits and inspire hope. That’s your chance to talk about beating the odds, never giving up, having potential you haven’t even begun to realize. A virgin birth is nothing compared to a dead guy coming back to life! Easter celebrations should be absolutely incredible.

Instead Easter languishes in the shadow of Lent, stunted by a pessimistic church and outshone by the yuletide. So what if Christmas has been fed by commercialism and inflated by profit margins? Commercialism has created a much better holiday with Christmas than religion has with Easter.

Monday, April 10, 2006

Counting Down the Days

I'm stealing Joel's recent blog post title since I, too am counting the days until I leave my current job. Training for the new restaurant started last week and it's great. I am learning so much about Indian food, geography, culture. This week we concentrate on spices and start on wines. It's like an intensive course on Indian cuisine and I'm a natural student. They gave us a pop quiz last week and I got every question right, although I blew the two extra credit ones. As a reward, those of us who did particularly well on the quiz got Reese's peanut butter Easter eggs.

I am so ready to leave my current job. I recently discovered some information that leads me to believe it was going to be difficult to move from the hostess job to a server position, or at least it would have been farther in the future than I thought. This information, in addition to some interpersonal dynamics I'm increasingly aware of, make it a VERY good idea for me to just get out and move on. The End is four days away. I am ready for a VERY Good Friday.

Friday, April 07, 2006

Saturday, April 01, 2006

I Quit!

Modigli quit. Joel quit. And I quit.

I quit!

I recently interviewed at a soon-to-open restaurant that felt like such a good fit, I suspected my job search was over. Well, on Sunday I got a call and they offered me the job! I accepted and Wednesday I went to the first employee meeting/training.

I'm excited about this. I love the space, the decor, the colors. I like the concept, the description, the philosophy. And my future co-workers seem really cool. Sitting there in the paint-smelling store with buckets and brushes lying around and finding out about uniforms and opening schedules felt like getting ready for a show that's about to open. I love getting ready for a show. I'm also excited about reducing my commute to 30 minutes instead of an hour.

I've decided to be more discreet about where I work, so I'm not publishing the details of my new job (if you really want to know, email me). But the owners expect the restaurant to be open some time in the second half of April, so I've given The Grillroom my two-week notice. I quit! I can finally be honest about how little I want to be there, and everyone has to understand why I don't want to work really, really hard to become a decent hostess because I'M LEAVING. I don't belong in that restaurant, I'm tired of dealing with downtown crowds, I hate being a hostess and suck at it anyway and I want to be a server again.

I'll be out of The Grillroom by Easter and my last day will be Good Friday. In my calendar I've already edited it to read "VERY Good Friday."

Joel, does it seem to you like the next two weeks will last for months?